Mazu Daoyi

Year of birth : 709
Place of birth : Sichuan China
Teacher/Guru : Nanyue Huairang

Books by the Master

" Mind is Buddha: Mazu's sermons and utterances "


Mǎzŭ Dàoyī (709–788) was an influential abbot of the Chinese Ch'an School of Buddhism during the Tang Dynasty. His teaching style of "strange words and extraordinary actions" became paradigmatic Zen lore.

Mazu family name was Ma. He was born in 709 in Sichuan province (northwest of Chengdu). During his years as master Mazu lived in Kiangsi province, from which he derived his Chinese name Kiangsi Tao-i).

In the Transmission of the Lamp (Ching-te Ch'uan-teng-lu, compiled in 1004) Mazu is described as follows: His appearance was remarkable. He strode along like a bull and glared about him like a tiger. If he stretched out his tongue, it reached up over his nose; on the soles of his feet were imprinted two circular marks.

According to the Transmission of the Lamp Mazu was a student of Nanyue Huairang (677-744), in Hunan province by Hengshan . Traditionally a story in the entry on Nanyue Huairang in the Transmission of the Lamp is regarded as Mazu's enlightenment-account, though the text does not claim it as such. An earlier and more primitive version of this story appears in the Reverend Ma was sitting in a spot, and Reverend Rang took a tile and sat on the rock facing him, rubbing it. Master Ma asked, 'What are you doing?' Master said, 'I'm rubbing the tile to make it a mirror.' Master Ma said, 'How can you make a mirror by rubbing a tile?' Master said, 'If I can't make a mirror by rubbing a tile, how can you achieve buddhahood by sitting in meditation? This story echoes the Vimalakirti Sutra and the Platform Sutra in downgrading puricative and gradual disciplines, instead of the direct insight into the True Nature.

Mazu became Nanyue Huairang's dharma–successor. Eventually Mazu settled at Kung-kung Mountain by Nankang, southern Kiangsi province, where he founded a monastery and gathered scores of disciples.

The most important of these schools is the Hongzhou school of Mazu, to which also belong Baizhang, Huangbo and Linji (Rinzai). Linji is also regarded as the founder of one of the Five Houses.

This school developed "shock techniques such as shouting, beating, and using irrational retorts to startle their students into realization". These shock techniques became part of the traditional and still popular image of Chan masters displaying irrational and strange behaviour to aid their students.